Nearing the end of Spring Training, Jaime Schultz was looking forward to joining his teammates in a trip to the Midwest League. Instead, he had to have his appendix removed, washing out the majority of the season's first two months. Through his first two starts this year, however, the right-hander is quickly making up for lost time.
Schultz set a career high and matched a club record with 12 strikeouts over 5 2/3 two-hit innings as Class A Bowling Green blanked Lake County, 5-0, on Thursday night. He walked three.
Surgery and a cautious rehab process pushed the right-hander's season debut back to May 16, but the 2013 14th-round Draft pick has shown no ill effects from his delay. Against the Captains, Schultz (1-0) set the tone early, striking out the side in order in the top of the first inning. He finished strong as well, his last six outs were strikeouts. Schultz only faced multiple baserunners in the third, when he stranded men at second and third.
The High Point University product took advantage of an eager Lake County lineup and some advice from his teammates.
"All the guys on the [Hot Rods] that have previously started against this team told me that these guys like to jump on fastballs," Schultz said. "They like to free swing at first-pitch strikes. [Armando] Araiza called a great game, working in everything instead of just pumping in first-pitch fastballs. I didn't even have to think about calling pitches. He threw down a number, and I'd just rock back and fire it."
Entering this season, Schultz's single-game career high for strikeouts was eight. He's already broken that mark twice in as many starts in 2014.
"I think it's just a matter of being able to throw every pitch," the 22-year-old said of his 21 strikeouts through 10 1/3 innings this year. "In the offseason, I worked on everything, throwing it in any count. Then when I was down in extended [spring training] for the time after my surgery, I worked a lot with our pitching coordinators and coaches on relaxing and not trying to throw the crap out of the ball every time."
Schultz has only walked four batters and surrendered four hits, not allowing a run. All of this on the heels of the massive changes to his routine.
"The whole Rays staff is really good with that," he said of his rehab. "They basically set out a huge throwing program with me on the fly. Our athletic trainers and staff really worked with me one-on-one personally to get slowly back into it. I was on a pitch count the entire time, and then however I felt afterwards, we would move up. It was a long process, but I'm just glad to be here now."
Schultz threw four no-hitters while in high school in upstate New York and posted a 3.05 ERA in 17 appearances, including 10 starts, for short-season Hudson Valley a year ago. Thursday night, though, had a different feel even for him.
"I haven't been in many moods like I was tonight as far as consistency," he said. "It's just one of those days where you don't have to think about anything and whatever you throw ends up coming out pretty good."
Ariel Soriano smacked a two-run double to center field in the seventh for Bowling Green.
Lake County's Dace Kime (0-7) took the hard-luck loss after allowing one run on one hit while striking out three and not issuing a walk over five innings.